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5 Ways to Build Emotional Resilience in Kids

Children face challenging situations every day, and building their emotional resilience helps them persevere when faced with adversity and build the will to succeed.

What is emotional resilience

Emotional resilience is our ability to calm our emotional state when faced with a negative or challenging situation. The greater our emotional resilience, the more effective we are at managing stress and dealing with adversity. Emotional resilience allows us to deal with things calmly and successfully.

How does it help kids

Through building emotional resilience in children, we teach them how to overcome everyday stress and challenges. They learn that failure and adversity are not things to be feared, but steps along the way. It helps them think critically and develop the confidence to solve problems independently.

Building Resilience with Superheroes

Just like adults, kids learn well from example and analogy. If you can frame the challenge they face as a story they know or can relate to, they’ll be better able to apply it to their own life. And one area that’s both familiar and ripe with emotionally resilient characters are superhero stories.

Superheroes in Therapy

Dr. Janina Scarlet, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Diego, has been using ‘superhero therapy’ with her clients since 2014. It is a term used to describe when superheroes (and, more broadly, elements of pop culture) are used in therapy in order to facilitate recovery.

“Superhero Therapy refers to incorporating characters from geek culture, including Superheroes and other characters from comic books, as well as characters from fantasy, science fiction, and video games into evidence-based therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy).”

Using familiar narrative frameworks from superhero stories can make it easier for people, children and adults, to structure their thoughts around complex situations and emotions.

According to Dr. Scarlet, “Sometimes recognizing that some of our favorite heroes have been through a similar experience can potentially be healing.”

The Batman Effect

There is research to support this approach. A 2016 study by the National Institutes of Health found that children were more able to focus on and complete boring tasks when dressed as, and imagining themselves to be, a determined character. Rather than asking, “Am I working hard?” they were encouraged to refer to themselves in the third person and ask themselves, depending on the character they chose, “Is Dora working hard?” or “Is Batman working hard?”

Those children who imagined themselves to be strong, capable characters did better at the tasks than those who didn’t. Researchers suspect this is most likely because they were able to separate themselves from their emotions by referring to themselves in this way and, through taking on the characteristics of that character, they found the confidence to keep going. The study dubbed this projected self-confidence ‘the Batman effect’.

Superhero Imaginations

Designed for children, Imaginhero is a version of the popular therapy tool Cards for Calm. It takes practices from cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness and expresses them through an accessible framework of superpowers. A deck of cards, Imaginhero teaches kids how to use visualization, creative thinking, and mindfulness to deal with anxiety, stress, and confrontation. It teaches them that imagination is their superpower. There are also educational resources and guided meditations, all of which can help a child think like a superhero.

From Imaginhero, here are 5 visualizations to help your child be an emotional resilient superhero.

1 – Block Negativity With a Forcefield

When faced with confrontation, or someone being overly negative, encourage your child to imagine they can raise a forcefield around themselves. Help them picture it clearly by asking questions. What does it look like, a wall or a bubble? What color is it? Does it sparkle or shine?

Ask them to imagine the forcefield muffles certain sounds, so the negative things people say become wordless mumbling. Have them visualize their negative words as blobs of goo. Does the goo bounce harmlessly off their forcefield? Does it evaporate to nothing on impact?

2 – The Superpower of Super Focus

Distractions are everywhere, and even superheroes can lose their focus.

Ask your child what their distractions look like. Are they drones or tiny robots buzzing around them? Are they a supervillain’s henchmen? Are they a swarm of asteroids that risk knocking you off course?

Once they can picture their distractions, help them choose a superpower to blast them away. Do they fire energy blasts from their eyes to knock them away? Blast electricity from their fingertips to take out the distracting drones? Do they summon a tidal wave to wash them away?

3 – Blast Self Doubt with Freeze Breath

Sometimes we find ourselves stuck as negative thoughts swirl around us. These doubts try to tell us we’re not good enough. That we can’t succeed. That we’ll only fail if we try.

First, ask them to visualize these thoughts of self doubt. Do they look like clouds of smoke? Are they monsters? Insects? Moustache-twirling supervillains?

Once they can imagine them as something physical, ask them to focus on one and draw a deep breath. Hold it for two seconds and feel the air inside them get colder and colder. Then exhale and blow that super cold air over the doubt, trapping it in a block of ice with their freeze breath.

Have them do this several times, either to the same self doubt or to multiple, until they can visualize them stuck, harmless and imobile, encased in ice.

4 – Find Calm in Your Superhero Lair

Lots of superheroes have a headquarters. From the safety of their base they can plan on how to defeat a supervillain, recover their strength, or simply find a safe space where they can put aside the pressures of being a superhero.

Explain that you’re going to build a superhero headquarters in their mind. A place where they can feel safe when things seem overwhelming. Ask them what their headquarters looks like. Is it in a forest? On an island? High on a mountaintop or deep underground? Is it made from ice? Stone? Metal? Wood?

Encourage them to see every detail, and ask a question about everything they describe. Ask if they are alone there, or if they have people or pets that make them feel safe.

Remind them this is a place they can return to to recharge their superpowers any time they feel the need. As with the other exercises listed here, the more you repeat them with your child the more readily they’ll be able to imagine them when needed.

5 – Superpower of Silliness

It’s almost impossible to be nervous or scared when you’re laughing. This exercise helps your child neutralize a person or situation that causes them anxiety by imagining the situation becoming absurdly silly.

Explain to them that anxiety can magnify something so it seems so much worse than it is. But there’s a superpower that can shrink any anxious situation down to size. It’s the Power of the Ridiculous.

Ask them to imagine the person, place, or thing that is causing them anxiety. Let them hold the image for a few seconds. Ask them to draw in a deep breath, hold it, then breathe out their Power of Ridiculousness.

This exercise is the one you can really let their imagination run wild on. If it’s a person that’s causing them anxiety, hit them with a Change Ray so they’re dressed in a floppy yellow hat, baggy clown pants, and a unicorn pool floatie. Or use their freeze breath to ice the ground beneath them and watch them slip and slide in a crazy dance as they try not to fall over.

Use their weather-ray to make it rain spaghetti on everything. Or fine tune their super hearing so they hear everyone talking in silly voices.

To guarantee laughter, ask them to imagine sticking a pin in whatever’s causing them anxiety. Watch it shrink down to size and make a wheezing, farty sound as the anxiety seeps out.

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